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Doug Sundseth

Sculpting free-standing feathers

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I have a bust that I'm starting to work on (around 1/10 scale). The helmet of the bust has "wings" that look to be intended to be some sort of rigid support with feathers inserted vertically. I kind of hate the way they are cast (too thick with muddy details), so I want to use my baby sculptor skillz to replace the feathers with something that will, with luck, look better. The current feathers are around 1/2" long and kind of worn (which I like). Questions:

 

  • Since these will be freestanding and inserted end on into the existing rigid support (after removing the existing resin feathers) rather than laid down on something else, I'm assuming that I will want some sort of armature. Am I right about that or can I reasonably get away with just sculpting the feather? (The result will not be molded, just painted.)
  • If I use an armature, what would work best? I'm concerned that really thin copper wire won't add enough rigidity to the feather to protect it from transport damage, but I don't want to go very thick, because feathers.

 

Thanks for any help you can offer.

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Feathers are hard. The thing is that you don't have anything to push against when sculpting. When I last did some feathers (albeit at a smaller scale) I decided to lay them down flat and sculpt just one side at a time. That way I could push against a hard surface to get the details. Then it can be formed into the shape you want to cure, after which you can go back to the other side and add details. I would suggest having a thin bit of wire running up the middle. It might not add much rigidity but will be helpful for attaching the feather to the rest of the piece.

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48 minutes ago, Pragma said:

Feathers are hard. The thing is that you don't have anything to push against when sculpting. When I last did some feathers (albeit at a smaller scale) I decided to lay them down flat and sculpt just one side at a time. That way I could push against a hard surface to get the details. Then it can be formed into the shape you want to cure, after which you can go back to the other side and add details. I would suggest having a thin bit of wire running up the middle. It might not add much rigidity but will be helpful for attaching the feather to the rest of the piece.

 

Thank you.

 

From talking about similar things previously, I was pretty sure I'd have to sculpt each side separately. And thinking about it, a wire down the rachis of the feather would make it easier to attach when it's fully set. Would I be better off with a soft metal like copper, something hard-ish like brass, or something really hard like music wire (I have the tools to cut music wire from previous projects)?

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32 minutes ago, Doug Sundseth said:

... rachis of the feather ...

I just learned a new word.

 

I think you would want something that you could bend without too much difficulty. I have never used copper, brass or music wire for this purpose - I think my armature wire is made out of aluminum.

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You could try some of the self-adhesive copper tape used for leadlighting, stuck on both sides of a coarse nylon bristle. The nylon will provide enough support to keep the feather upright, but enough flexibility that an accidental impact won't be catastrophic. The copper is soft enough that it can be cut to shape with sharp nail scissors, and it can be easily impressed with a feathery texture with a needle.

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You were in my Sculpting Nature Class, yes? (I'm pretty sure you were, but people and faces come and go at ReaperCon until it becomes hard to sort the memories of who was where).

 

Anyway, if so, you can sculpt this exactly like we did the fern leaf, but put down a thin brass wire first.  Lay your sheet over the wire and sculpt the feather shape and details.  When it cures, pop it off of the card, flip it over and add a second thin sheet to the other side and sculpt the details there.  I'd use a mix of 1:2 or 1:3 Apoxie Sculpt:GS for this since you want it to be a bit stiff, but not too brittle either.

 

If you weren't in my class or you want more, I can work up a step by step of this this weekend if you like and post it later.

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12 minutes ago, TaleSpinner said:

You were in my Sculpting Nature Class, yes? (I'm pretty sure you were, but people and faces come and go at ReaperCon until it becomes hard to sort the memories of who was where).

 

Anyway, if so, you can sculpt this exactly like we did the fern leaf, but put down a thin brass wire first.  Lay your sheet over the wire and sculpt the feather shape and details.  When it cures, pop it off of the card, flip it over and add a second thin sheet to the other side and sculpt the details there.  I'd use a mix of 1:2 or 1:3 Apoxie Sculpt:GS for this since you want it to be a bit stiff, but not too brittle either.

 

If you weren't in my class or you want more, I can work up a step by step of this this weekend if you like and post it later.

 

I was in the class and in part that's why I'm willing to give this a shot. (Thank you.) I think I know enough* to try this with some expectation of at least learning what mistakes I need to avoid first.

 

My inclination is to use something like 0.020" brass rod for the armature, because I know where it sits on my desk, but 24 gauge solid-core wire would be about the same size and cheaper. Would the wire be rigid enough for this purpose? Would brass be the right choice? Am I completely overthinking this and going into a death spiral that will end in tears and broken dreams? :huh:

 

Thanks for the mix suggestion; I probably wouldn't have thought of that. With luck I'll be able to start the project this weekend. 

 

* Famous last words. :poke:

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At this scale, any wire will work. Copper will be more flexible, but not enough to cause you issues.  If you really want it nice and stiff, forge the armatures out of copper wire (this has the added benefit of being very fun as well).  The forging process will make it very stiff due to work-hardening.  Here is the blank I forged from silver coated copper wire for a butterfly sword:

 

IMG_E3075.JPG.02d43b0c068bac4f72b08c2d99b30fce.JPG

 

You can forge it very thin.  After forging you can refine the shape using a file or rotary tool.

 

IMG_E3077.JPG.c4c694f03e8a0a09fb96737702df9890.JPG

 

Then you use very thin sheets of putty on each side to sculpt in the details.

 

IMG_E3085.JPG.de31f7e6711b163bed5623eae12c7839.JPG

 

IMG_E3079.JPG.9a6a70fb0fded067fa5cbcf732cfe025.JPGIMG_E3080.JPG.b6ed17b1993505e01aa0a0a3250d47d2.JPG

 

If durability is what you are looking for, this is the method I would use.

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No problem.  Oh, and unless it wasn't clear, cold-forge the copper.  No heat needed. Heat would anneal the copper and make it really soft.

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3 hours ago, TaleSpinner said:

No problem.  Oh, and unless it wasn't clear, cold-forge the copper.  No heat needed. Heat would anneal the copper and make it really soft.

 

Do you have any recommendations for hammers to use when cold-forging? Unsurprisingly, we have a couple of nail-driving carpenter's hammers in the house, but no smaller jeweler's hammers of any sort. (Not sure if I need this information right now, but I am curious, and it would be good to know later.)

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1 hour ago, klarg1 said:

 

Do you have any recommendations for hammers to use when cold-forging? Unsurprisingly, we have a couple of nail-driving carpenter's hammers in the house, but no smaller jeweler's hammers of any sort. (Not sure if I need this information right now, but I am curious, and it would be good to know later.)

 

For years, I just used my smallest claw hammer.  I've since upgraded to a small forging hammer.  The only difference is that the forging hammer has a flatter face and is a bit easier to control, but not so much that I wouldn't use the other one in a pinch (i.e., if it is handy and I'd have to go looking for the other one :lol:).

 

You do need a hardened smooth surface to forge on.  I use a jeweler's anvil I got off of Amazon for about $20.  Since then, I have found several other versions of blocks and such.  You can use the back of a bench anvil, but if it has rough groves in it, I'd recommend sanding it smooth with a belt sander first, or you'll risk putting groves in your work.

 

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Thinking on anvils, in a pinch, you could take a hammer and put it in a vice, strike face up and use it like a jeweler's anvil.

 

Just make sure you wear safety glasses when forging.

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5 hours ago, TaleSpinner said:

If you weren't in my class or you want more, I can work up a step by step of this this weekend if you like and post it later.

I would love to see this, as I decided to try and sculpt my own alien plants for my next RCon diorama. My first attempts are ok, but my initial method was very trial and lots of error.

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